Area schools still finding ‘hit lists’; Number has dwindled since

TOM KERTSCHER

Area schools still finding ‘hit lists’

Number has dwindled since Columbine shootings

Schools in southeast Wisconsin continue to discover “hit lists” that are considered similar to those involved in the Columbine High School massacre nearly six years ago.

Discoveries of such lists have tapered off since the Columbine shootings in Colorado, school officials say. And they say most incidents are not serious — but that they can never be sure.

“We take them all very seriously,” said Peter Pochowski, director of security for Milwaukee Public Schools. “I guess the way to take it is if your kid’s name is on that list. That’s the way we treat them all.”

The fourth such “hit list” incident in the metropolitan area in the past year was discovered earlier this month in Waterford in Racine County.

Authorities said they determined that no child was in danger in that case, but that two girls — one 13 and the other 14 — would be referred to juvenile court in connection with the case.

Officials last week confirmed that on Jan. 3, faculty at Fox River Middle School discovered a list containing the names of about 30 students, said Gary Tilleros, assistant administrator of the Waterford Graded School District.

The principal determined that the list was “threatening.” The two girls were suspended for three days, Tilleros said.

The list appears to be the result of a squabble between two groups of students, and “it doesn’t look like it was the beginning plans of anything major in nature,” said Sgt. Brian Londre, spokesman for the Racine County Sheriff’s Department.

The Waterford “hit list” follows similar incidents in Brookfield in October, Burlington in June and Brown Deer in February, according to news reports.

Audrey Potter, the coordinator of psychological services at MPS, said such incidents are uncommon, saying they have been sporadic since a spate of “hit list” cases that followed shortly after the Columbine shootings.

On April 20, 1999, two teens methodically killed 12 classmates and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves inside the Colorado high school.

17 ‘hit lists’ since Columbine

In Wisconsin, there have been at least 17 “hit list” incidents since Columbine, according to news reports. They involved 16 boys and 10 girls at 10 high schools and seven junior high or middle schools.

Potter said students who make a hit list with intent of doing harm often are trying to take revenge on bullies, even though some people on the list didn’t do any harassment.

“If you’ve been bullied, it’s easy to perceive someone as a bully, and everyone who’s not on your side is on the other side,” she said.

Students who make “hit lists” but have no intention of doing harm are more difficult to understand, Potter said. But anger and powerlessness are common feelings for adolescents, and perhaps simply making a list of people they are angry at is enough to calm them down, she said.

“After you put it down, you don’t have to think about it anymore,” Potter said.

Potter said that some school districts are criticized for overreacting to hit lists, but that investigation and some level of notification of parents is necessary.

“You can never know which ones present serious threats and which ones don’t,” she said.

RECENT INCIDENTS OF ‘HIT LISTS’

There have been at least 17 incidents of “hit lists” in Wisconsin schools since the Columbine shootings in Colorado on April, 20, 1999. Among the most recent incidents, according to news reports:

* Waterford: Two girls at Fox River Middle School were suspended for three days and referred to juvenile court after being found in school with a hit list on Jan. 3, 2005.

* Brookfield: A teacher found a hit list Oct. 15, 2004, in the notebook of a 12-year-old Milwaukee boy who is a student at Wisconsin Hills Middle School. The boy was suspended.

* Burlington: A hit list was found in a boys bathroom in June 3, 2004, at Burlington High School. It named seven staff members and students as targets of homicide. Police determined that the 16-year- old boy who had written the note had no intentions of hurting anyone.

* Brown Deer: Two Brown Deer High School students were given disorderly conduct tickets after police found on Feb. 9, 2004, that they had written a hit list of students and faculty on a bedroom wall at the home of the one of the girls. The girls said the list was a way of venting their frustrations and they meant no harm.

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